What’s the difference between good decision making and discernment? How do I teach good decision making to my children?
In parenting, there are so many decisions we make on an hour-to-hour, moment-to-moment basis. If we don’t understand how to make good choices, we can’t teach our children how to do it either. In my recent podcast episode on Parenting Smarts, my guest Claire Dwyer and I discuss the difference between decisions and discernment. We start the episode with an overview of several psychological factors and biases. These influence our decision-making as well as our thoughts and feelings about decision-making. To listen to the episode find Parenting Smarts where ever you listen to your podcasts and look for Episode 92, or continue reading for some of the highlights.
When it comes to helping our children make good decisions, it can be helpful to act as a scaffold for their process. We can give them frameworks, and help walk them through the process with open-ended questions. But we first have to know how to do it ourselves. We can’t teach what we don’t know. Sometimes, we know how to do it, but we lack an understanding of the complexity of teaching it.
Decision fatigue is a real thing. When we have to make repeated decisions it can be exhausting. Simplify choices and prioritize important decisions. This frees up my cognitive space for more important decisions. Children especially can be overwhelmed with lots of big decisions too. Give them the choice between two options instead to help combat decision fatigue.
Do a pro/cons analysis. This can help you visualize the potential outcomes so that you can evaluate them more objectively. This comes from what is called the “rational decision-making model”. Another rational model would be doing a risk/rewards analysis to clearly outline the risks of each option.
Understand your biases. Confirmation bias is the tendency we have to seek, interpret, or remember information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs. Anchoring is a bias we see when we rely too much on the first bit of information we have which then acts as an anchor for the later received information. It can lead us to be influenced too heavily by the first bit of information.
Hindsight Bias– AKA Monday Morning Quarterbacking. We make decisions on the information we have at the time. Once you have carefully made a decision, stop second-guessing yourself. When you make a decision and you give yourself an “out”, you are less likely to be satisfied with that decision – sort of like having a cognitive prenup. Carefully make your choice, and then jump in with both feet.
It is also good to get into the practice of looking at situations and evaluating if you should do things differently in the future. What went well, and what did you learn? That is just being a lifelong learner.
Consider your goals. How does this situation fit in with your long-term goals or purpose? We know that even when a choice brings stress – if that choice is in line with your purpose of life goals, the stress itself is beneficial to the body on a cellular level.
Recognize the role of emotional regulation. When you are stressed, depressed, angry, or grieving, it is hard to make rational and effective decisions. When possible, put aside important decisions when you are in a difficult place emotionally. Researchers sometimes refer to this as hot cognition – when we are emotionally hot, the emotional centers of the brain light up and can prevent clear decision-making. Adolescents are particularly susceptible to hot cognition.
Listen to your intuition or your gut. We take in an incredible amount of information and sometimes we aren’t able to make sense of it. Simply thinking “I don’t like this” is important even if you don’t know rationally why you are uncomfortable with something. You can also run through the decision with someone else who has unbiased views or isn’t invested in the decision and get their gut response.
For more on making decisions and how decision-making is different from spiritual discernment be sure to check out the rest of the conversation over at the Parenting Smarts Podcast here.
My guest, Claire Dwyer is just the sort of person you want in the room or on the other end of the phone when you have decisions to make. In our conversation, we discuss discernment as a type of decision-making that applies some spiritual weight and the will of God for us particularly. We also talk about teaching children to grow in discernment, our obstacles to discernment, the dignity of causality, and the importance of the three C’s: Conversion, Consistency, and Conviction. But let me leave you with the main message in Claire’s own words:
God does have a plan for your life. It is possible to know it.
He wants us to know it.
We are not puppets. We are authors of our own story.